How the Faber Academy course helped renew my faith in my writing – Charlotte Duckworth

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By Charlotte Duckworth

I had been writing novels ever since my early 20s, and with my first book managed to secure an agent. But the coveted publishing contract remained elusive, and disillusioned, I’d been on a five-year break from writing when I went on maternity leave with my first baby. I’d sold my PR business while pregnant, meaning I didn’t have a job to go back to – a scary prospect. I decided this was the perfect ‘now or never’ time to give writing another shot, and so I set about researching courses, thinking I’d probably do an MA. But then I came across the Faber Academy’s Writing a Novel course, and it sounded perfect.♥

Designed to fit around a day job, it’s a six-month course consisting of one evening class a week and one full Saturday per month, held at Faber’s London HQ. I was so nervous that first day, waiting outside in the rain for someone to open the Big Black Door. In truth, I don’t remember much about the first session at all, apart from that everyone was very polite and very nice, and the mix of backgrounds and experiences in my class was brilliant. It was a really diverse group – I had thought it would all be journalists like me, but we had screenwriters and actors and architects, and a big age range too.

I don’t think I spoke much for the first few weeks, but as we all got to know each other, I found my feet. I absolutely loved reading everyone else’s work – it was amazing seeing the variety of voices and stories, and I learnt so much from hearing other people’s critiques. Our tutor, Joanna Briscoe, was thoughtful and considerate, never bossing us about but gently leading us, and pointing out things less experienced writers might not know or notice.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that I was really gutted when the first term came to an end. But – and this was the best bit – I had a first draft. An entire first draft, written in under three months. Having that course to motivate me to keep ploughing on every day was crucial – Joanna asked us each week to set ourselves word counts, and then would check up the following week to see how we got on. The pressure was helpful, rather than scary, and everyone worked at their own pace, encouraging each other.

The second term flew by. Each term, we all had one ‘peer review’ session, where we submitted 5000 words of writing for the rest of the group to read and comment on. We’d then have a 45-minute group discussion once we’d all read the extracts. It was as terrifying as it sounds, but also a necessary part of learning to write if you want to share your work one day with real readers! From time to time discussions got a little heated as with any creative endeavour, opinions are so subjective. But the lively discussions always got my brain going, and I found the feedback on my own work fascinating.

At the end of the course, Faber invites agents and editors to come in and everyone reads an extract of their work aloud to them. There’s a lot of hype around the agents’ reading day. It’s a great way to get yourself ‘seen’ by agents, but if the work isn’t up to scratch, it won’t make a difference to whether or not you get taken on. There’s no short-cut to publication, it really is just down to sheer hard work and determination.

It’s an expensive course, but in some ways I think this filters out the less committed. And Faber now offer two free places to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it, which is absolutely brilliant.

I’m pleased to say that the novel I wrote during the course, The Rival, was published in September by Quercus. It was fab to have my Faber Academy coursemates come along to celebrate at my launch party. The course, and their encouragement and support, played a huge part in me finding my confidence as a writer again. And best of all, I count them all as writing friends for life.


Charlotte Duckworth has spent the past fifteen years working as an interiors and lifestyle journalist, writing for a wide range of consumer magazines and websites. She lives in Surrey with her partner and their young daughter.

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